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The Five Best Bits of Advice I Ever Received

Here are five of the some of the best bits of advice that I was ever given. They all apply to writing, but can also apply more generally to life.

1. Plan for the future

This one was from my father, and I didn’t follow it particularly well. Looking back now from the perspective of 62 — an age higher than that of my father when I last saw him — I wish I had listened more. I heard the words; I just didn’t get the importance. When young, one is full of energy and life and dreams, and the future seems very much a field in which one can play; as one gets older, one begins to see that the options are narrowing, and that some planned resources would be handy. But there’s even more to this: unless one has a clear idea of where one is heading and more or less what to expect, one can find oneself wandering all over the place and achieving very little. Naming specific goals and working towards them is a large part of accomplishing one’s dreams, and that starts with having some kind of plan. It doesn’t have to be a perfect plan, just something to give direction to living and to help channel one’s strength.

2. Visit your wellsprings

This was a piece of advice given to me by a chap called Neil Roskilly, who was chairman of a school association at the time. We had just finished a conference on how to be a Head Teacher (Principal) and he was summing up. I didn’t understand fully what he meant at first, but soon came to regard these words as a key to happiness, or at least resilience. Unless one has a notion of where strength and health come from, it’s very difficult to sustain any effort in a world which at times seems designed to hinder and block — only by knowing where to find renewed energy and by making frequent visits to those places does one regain the power needed to persevere. These wellsprings can be spiritual, religious, natural, artistic or some combination of elements: the important thing is to recognise them for what they are and then to use them to replenish one’s diminished vitality as needed.

3. Start your own group

This sounds very practical and it is: it’s important to establish a group of one’s own. The alternative is to fall into orbit with some other gathering, which might not always be to one’s taste or of any use. Tori Reid, a business entrepreneur, gave me this advice personally, and I have never looked back. Having my own group on social media in my case meant that I was transformed from someone chasing the attention of others to someone cultivating the attention that I garnered. That’s a huge difference, psychologically, spiritually, and commercially.

4. Find a safe space

Similar to ‘Start your own group’ and ‘Visit your wellsprings’, this is all about securing a measure of wholesomeness for yourself. Unless one has somewhere completely safe to withdraw to — which can be purely mental as well as physical — one can find oneself subject to the the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and this can wear down resilience and cohesion until personal integrity begins to dissolve. Establish a space which reflects your own values and beliefs; found it upon reason and goodwill; and make sure that you withdraw to it when you need to.

5. Treat others as you would want to be treated

This is another piece of advice from my father, and probably his best. From an early age, he instructed me in the skills associated with taking another’s point of view. I once found a sixpence outside our home in Yorkshire, on the footpath, and was overjoyed — but my father pointed out, how would I have felt had that sixpence been mine and I had dropped it on the path? Similarly, he said, if I were to strike an animal or another person, picture how that other creature felt — is that something that I would like to receive? Gradually, imperfectly, this became my default viewpoint on Life: how would another like to be treated? All I had to do was think how I would prefer to be regarded, and I had my answer. So I have striven to treat everyone, in any given set of circumstances, how I would like to have been treated. I don’t always get this right, and have had some major failings in this regard, but it has served me well as a guide and mantra.

So there you have five pieces of good advice. Do they make sense to you? Applied together, they can make quite a positive difference.


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